Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Party Fatigue

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Party Fatigue

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "America's Missing Moderates" by Morris P. Fiorina, in The American Interest, March/April 2013.

PITY THE STATE OF AMERICAN POLITICS. HALF the voters pull the country in one direction, and the other half stubbornly yank it the opposite way. Everybody seems to be screaming, not so much at each other as past each other. The United States is divided down the middle, the pundits say.

It isn't. In terms of party affiliation, ideology, and even positions on particular hot-button issues, the American electorate has hardly changed at all in a generation. Today, about a quarter of Americans say they are Republicans; a similar proportion said the same 30 years ago. Some 35 percent of Americans identify as Democrats, the same as before. Nearly 40 percent of Americans don't even identify with a political party, writes Morris P. Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

What has changed is the political class--party activists, donors, and convention delegates. The rise of partisan media and the proliferation of ideological interest groups have also turned up the temperature.

Meanwhile, demographic and political sorting has left the parties "more homogenous than they were a generation ago," Fiorina says. Liberals, for example, were once found in both parties. Now virtually all are Democrats, while conservatives have moved to the GOP. Nonetheless, there's still some diversity within the parties. For example, nearly 40 percent of "strong Republicans" polled in a 2008 survey wavered from a strictly pro-life stance. And more than a third of "strong Democrats" took views on abortion close to those associated with the Grand Old Party. Polls find similar results when it comes to gun control and other issues.

The problem is that "the most active and involved members come from the most extreme reaches of each party. …

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